Morocco’s leading political parties are suffering from a leadership crisis as their annual conferences approach in the coming months.
The Islamist Justice and Development (PJD) party won 125 out of the 395 seats in the Moroccan House of Representatives in elections a year ago, beating the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), which secured 102 seats. The Independence Party (PI) was third with 45 seats.
The PI, the country’s oldest political party, has had troubles, losing several important seats in the latest election.
A dinner attended by PI delegates September 29 in Rabat turned into a war of flying plates and chairs between supporters of PI Secretary- General Hamid Chabat and those of rival candidate Nizar Baraka.
Political analyst Mohammed Elfenich criticised the chaotic scene on his Facebook page.
“The flying plates have become a fact and not a scientific doubt,” wrote Elfenich.
“The flying plates were seen last night at the PI conference. It is very normal for the flying plates to appear after the money that was flown away from the municipalities, local and regional councils. Will the state protect the nation before it flies, too?” he asked.
The scuffle forced the organisers of the party’s congress to postpone the election of a new leader.
Chabat’s hopes of running for a second term as the party’s leader have faded away as he is being viewed as persona non grata by others in the party.
Rachid Aourraz, a researcher at the Arab Centre for Scientific Research and Human Studies, said conflicts within the PI were like those of any political party with decades of history, as personal interests can overtake the party’s political agenda.
“However, what happened at the dinner shows that there isn’t a strong political and institutional culture within Moroccan parties,” said Aourraz. “Everyone is trying to protect their own interests and those of their backers once in power. This is why we see such kind of hostile receptions.”
Chabat’s supporters denounced the Makhzen’s hold on their party, an accusation that was levelled by their leader at a news conference in September.
Baraka, grandson of party founder Allal el-Fassi, a two-time minister and president of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (ESEC), is a favourite to succeed Chabat after promising delegates a new era and reunification of the party.
PJD, the leading Islamist party, is also going through difficult times.
After the coalition government presented a summary of its first 120 days in power September 11, some PJD members objected that a representative of ousted Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane had been unable to speak. This prompted Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani to request party Deputy Secretary- General Slimane el Omrani to provide evidence he had been denied an opportunity to speak, Al Ahdath Al Maghribia daily reported.
Driss El Azami El Idrissi, the leader of the PJD’s parliamentary group, expressed reservations to Othmani over commitments he had made on behalf of the party.
“If the PJD’s commitment in the majority government implies that its deputies vote with the majority, it does not oblige them to support the positions of the government,” Idrissi told Al Ahdath Al Maghribia. “Talking about a perfect cohesion within the governmental majority is exaggerated. People should not be fooled.”
Benkirane, who is seeking a third mandate at the helm of the PJD, planned an electoral meeting for September 13 in Tetouan in support of Mohamed Idaamar for a parliamentary seat, which he won after the original vote was invalidated by the Constitutional Court for financial irregularities.
Idaamar, however, cancelled the meeting for “technical and objective reasons.” Moroccan media reported that a conflict between Benkirane and Othmani was behind the cancellation.
The PJD has long been known for its cohesion but cracks emerged after Benkirane’s failure to form a majority government cost him the premiership.
Benkirane made his first public comments on his party’s crisis in an interview in mid-September with PJD TV, saying it stems from problems on “both the party and leadership levels.”
“Since the beginning of the crisis, I have tried to manage it as best I can,” he said. “I am waiting for the day when the brothers will take this burden from me and put it on someone else’s back, in peace and for peace within the party.”
“I hear things about me that hurt me and that come from people who are close to me. Until then, I prefer to be silent. Knowing that, as secretary-general, I can set up commissions of inquiry,” he added.
Benkirane’s statement comes ahead of the party’s annual conference scheduled for December 9.
The PAM is facing a leadership crisis after Ilyas El Omari abruptly resigned after only 18 months as party secretary-general.
Omari’s main objective was to win the legislative elections but, although the PAM increased its number of parliamentary seats, he was defeated by incumbent Islamists.
Omari said he took responsibility for his party’s mistakes.
The party has not issued an official statement on what steps it would take to elect Omari’s successor and a party meeting to discuss the issue was postponed.
During a meeting in September, some PAM members accused leadership members of mismanagement.
“There is competition between candidates in the main political parties, which is proving that there is some maturity but the real competition should be about the political manifestos that will be presented to the voters,” said Aourraz.
Saad Guerraoui is a regular contributor to The Arab Weekly on Maghreb issues.